Post Politics Hour
Wednesday, February 15, 2006; 11:00 AM
Don't want to miss out on the latest buzz in politics? Start each day at wonk central: The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.
Washington Post Congressional reporter Charles Babington was online Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.
The transcript follows.
Washington, D.C.: Your article about the NSA spying investigation has me concerned. So basically, Congress was just complaining that they weren't informed, but now that they have been let's not worry about the legalities of the program. Meanwhile, lots of people are pointing to the "national press" and White House Press, saying they are just being big babies because they "weren't informed". But isn't the point of these respective groups being informed is to allow for the checks and balances to even things out? I mean, if Congress is now saying that it's legal, I want them on record say that-AND that innocent US citizens are not being spied on. I want that on the record!! So taking note that I'm in DC, and have no representation, what can I do to make sure they either investigate this, or give it their formal approval so they can't come back later when something questionable comes out of this "program"?
Charles Babington: The jury is still out on how Congress will deal with the NSA surveillance program. As the article noted, the White House is leaning heavily on the Republican-controlled Congress to stop short of a full inquiry. But the Senate intelligence committee doesn't vote on the matter until tomorrow... Speaking of voting: Yes, as a DC resident you do not have a voting member of Congress. As you well know, that deprives you of the traditional way of influencing lawmakers: The ballot box.
We'll ask our dot-com friends to provide a link to my story.
washingtonpost.com: Congressional Probe of NSA Spying Is in Doubt , ( Post, Feb. 15, 2006 )
Great Falls, Va.: Do you think Cheney was drunk when he blasted Whittington? Why else would he wait till the next day to give the account to the police? It's not like he doesn't drink given his previous arrest for drunk driving... Also, is shooting drunk a criminal offense or does that only depend upon whether you hit someone while doing it?
Charles Babington: There is no evidence that drinking was involved.
New York, N.Y.: Good story about the NSA lobbying. No shock that there was such a strong push to keep this from going to Congress.
It's obvious that the White House believes in opaqueness and not transparency of government; but do members of Congress agree?
Charles Babington: Without commenting on your statement about White House beliefs, let me say that a number of House and Senate members -- including Republicans -- are disturbed about elements of the surveillance program. Not least of their concerns is "what do we not know?" e.g., How many people have been surveilled? What happens to records on people who turn out to be dead-ends? and so on.
Rockville, Md.: "I shot the sheriff But I did not shoot the deputy ..."
Why apologize to the press?
Charles Babington: Marley lives!
Delmar, Del.: How is this playing in the Red States? Clearly Mr. Cheney is never going to run for office again -- at least I sure as heck hope not -- but shouldn't his handling of this cost the Republicans at the polls? I mean, we all make mistakes, though thankfully most of them don't involve human life. But the more he stonewalls, the more I wonder if something more is involved. Like it or not, he is the Republican Vice President; and what he does, good or bad, reflects on his chosen Party.
Charles Babington: Ds and Rs alike are opining that it seems strange that Mr. Cheney did not make a public statement of regret for the accident. Will it affect other Republicans at the polls in November (or 2008)? I don't know, but my general observation has been that people vote for or against a candidate based mainly on their feelings about the candidates before them on the ballot. For the most part, they're not greatly swayed by another politician's endorsement, peccadilloes or whatever.
Frederick, Md: I have reviewed the timeline of the Saturday "hunting" accident on the Washington Post web page. It uses Eastern Standard Time as the measure. The shooting occurred at 6:50 PM. What time was that in Texas? If an hour behind it would be 5:50 or dusk; if two, it would be 4:50 and would be daylight. Visibility may have been a factor in the accident and that time information is important. Also, how was the weather?
As for the "hunting", I think it would be important to understand whether the quail were domestic, raised for hunting; whether any of their wings were clipped to affect their ability to dodge the birdshot; whether the hunting party had to track the birds or were delivered by car to where they were known to be. Was this really "hunting", as commonly understood, or a planned killing?
Charles Babington: The area in question is on Central time, so it is one hour behind Washington time... I've seen nothing about the quail's wings being clipped, but I can't say I've read every word printed on the subject.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Charles, what was that crazy language Scott McClellan was speaking the other day when he was trying to explain Vice President Cheney's errant blast?
Charles Babington: Exactly what remarks are you alluding to?
Richmond, Va. : Slate says today: "A piece inside the Post says the White House's lobbying against a proposed congressional investigation of the warrantless snooping appears to be paying off. The probe now looks like it's going to be voted down in committee. 'It's been a full-court press," said a Senate Republican aide.' So, is that the end of the probing/investigation? Will any other group (including the American Bar Association, which a couple of days ago expressed concern) have the power to keep this going?
Charles Babington: I don't know about the ABA's plans... Congress has the greatest powers, authority and platform for conducting such an investigation. One group we've not heard from yet is the House judiciary committee, except that its chairman -- James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) -- has written a long letter asking many questions of AG Gonzales. It might be interesting to hear what the chairman says when he gets a reply.
Charlottesville, Va.: According to your article in today's paper, the NSA spying probe is likely not to happen because of appeals by the administration. What could the administration, now such deep dimensions of political trouble, do to persuade legislators that the probe is now unnecessary? What kind of persuasive power do they have left other than blackmail?
Charles Babington: The administration has all kinds of persuasive powers. They argue, for example, that the NSA program must be kept under tight wraps to prevent terrorists from learning how to evade it. That might not seem a compelling argument to you. To be sure, quite a few lawmakers find it uncompelling, noting that terrorists all along have realized their communications might be tapped through secret FISA warrants...But perhaps it is compelling to some lawmakers, who don't need to be blackmailed to agree with the White House position.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi Mr. B.-
What in the world would possess Scott McClellan to makes jokes about Mr. Wittington knowing full well that he had suffered a "heart attack?" What is going on in the White House?
Charles Babington: When McClellan cracked a Cheney-related joke about his orange tie, at a morning briefing, he did not know about the shooting victim's heart problem, according to the White House. We'll provide a link to Dana Milbank's article laying it out.
washingtonpost.com: Orange Morning Gives Way to a Darker Afternoon , ( Post, Feb. 15, 2006 )
Washington, D.C.: Hi Charles, great chat. Any thoughts about the veracity of info being offered up about the Cheney shooting in Texas?
Most commentary has focused on how slow the White House and Cheney were to inform the public.
But how about the seemingly false statements from his hunting companion, ranch owner Katharine Armstrong? How could she go on TV on Sunday and Monday, so lightly dismissing the injuries as "minor" and "superficial," when she had to know the victim, Harry Whittington, was in intensive care for two days. Who stays in intensive care with "superficial" injuries? Yet there she was, proclaiming he was "just fine." Why did she do that?
I also question why she was the front person for releasing details--and was so quick to proclaim Cheney innocent of wrongdoing.
The normal procedure in shootings is for official investigators to talk to the press. In this case, they weren't even allowed to INVESTIGATE until the next day.
I think that is where the media should focus more attention--how it was handled in Texas, not in Washington.
Charles Babington: I've not been writing about this incident, so I'm not steeped in details. My understanding is that Mr. Whittington was in intensive care for a time, then was out, and then went back in when the pellet caused the irregular heart beat.
I agree that it was strange for the White House and VP's office to let Ms. Armstrong be the one to first release the news. I covered the White House for a while (Clinton presidency), and I would have been very very surprised if Al Gore handled a comparable incident the same way. As some Republicans and White House friends have noted, the delay and curious handling have fed suspicions that might have evaporated under a more timely and forthcoming scenario... I'm sure there will be many more follow-up stories from Texas.
Charlottesville, Va.: You say: "There is no evidence that drinking was involved."
Well, the whole point of the delay in reporting the incident to the authorities is that there is no evidence about anything except that the victim was shot. You have to look at the logical reasons for the delay.
Charles Babington: You have concluded, then, that the Veep had been drinking? You think that's the "logical reason" as opposed to other possibilities?
Wilmington, N.C.: Hello, perhaps I am misunderstanding the relationship between President and AG, but it seemed weird (or inappropriate) for the AG to testify so overtly as an advocate of the Pres, even referring to him as the "client". I thought that was something White House Counsel did, and the AG was supposed to be independent. Am I off base, or was that odd?
Charles Babington: Quite a few senators reminded Mr. Gonzales that, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he had promised to represent the American people, and that he had agreed that the AG's job is different from the being the White House counsel... Mr. Gonzales replied, in part, that his defense of the NSA program is in the public's best interest.
Tex Parks and Wildlife Houston, Tex.: Curious not much mention that Cheney was hunting on the ranch of LOBBYIST Armstrong.
Charles Babington: Maybe, but it has been mentioned in the press. That's how you know it, right?
Anonymous: Hi Charles, with regard to The Post's front page this morning, are there really 325,000 terriers on the Terrier Watch list? No wonder the DHS is having such a hard time keeping tabs on them. They are a tenacious group, although I was surprised to see that the sporting group was not better represented on the list.
Charles Babington: I'm afraid I'm missing your joke. Did the Watch List story run near a photo of terriers (from the Westminster Kennel Club show, perhaps) in some editions? Was the word "terrorists" misspelled? Not in the editions of today's paper that I have seen.
Greensboro, N.C.: I've seen no discussion about whether it is wise for someone with a history of heart disease to be shouldering and blasting away with a shotgun. Why should the tax payers be footing the bill for Cheney to be accompanied by his medical team, when he is taking such careless risks?
Charles Babington: Secret Service agents and medical personnel go everywhere the president and VP go, be it vacation, work, whatever. Even the conspiracy theorists (and my goodness, there are a lot of you out there today, posting accusations and claims that aren't gonna make the cut in this one-hour chat) have not suggested that Cheney's heart problems caused him to shoot his friend. So, is hunting quail a "careless risk" that the VP -- any VP -- should be barred from doing?
Wilmington, N.C.: "Charles Babington: There is no evidence that drinking was involved." We are all scratching our heads about the report delay. It just doesn't seem to make any sense. Why create a controversy over a fairly understandable, if embarrassing, situation? There is one explanation for the delay that makes perfect sense. Postponing contact with law enforcement until alcohol has left the bloodstream. Do you think, when Cheney next meets the press, someone ought to ask him directly whether or not he drank on that outing?
Charles Babington: I'm getting many questions and speculations along this line. Many of you apparently have settled on an explanation for the reporting delay... I would not be surprised if Mr. Cheney gets such a question.
Tallahassee, Fla.: I thought the Terrier Watch List gag was great!
Charles Babington: Oh yes. Hilarious. I'm doubled over.
Charles Babington: OK, enough sarcasm for the day. Thanks for the good questions and comments, many many of which I could not get to in an hour. See you in a couple of weeks.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.